My mother, a woman skilled in various forms of needlework, taught me how to knit when I was a child. I mostly remember knitting doll clothes—especially for a tiny baby doll with moveable arms and legs. I put knitting aside as I entered adolescence, took it up again for a few years in young adulthood, and now later in life I’ve been bitten by the knitting bug and almost always have two or three projects on the needles at any one time and I’m drawn like a magnet to yarn stores. My biggest regret is that I didn’t have another opportunity after I started knitting again to tap into my mother’s expertise, which was considerable. She passed away before the knitting bug bit again.
The basic idea of knitting is so deceptively simple: With two sticks and string (knitting needles of varying sizes and yarns of an incredible array of colors, textures, weights and materials), and infinite variations of knitting and purling, you can create pretty much any article of clothing you want, not to mention blankets, bags, placemats, whatever. Some people are very skilled knitters and can do intricate work while others can only do basic stuff like scarves in garter stitch. Of course, a garter stitch scarf will keep you just as warm as a fancy one done in fair isle, cable, intarsia or lace.
Apart from the fun of knitting and the satisfaction of creating useful and beautiful things are some of the life lessons that knitting offers:
1. Knitting is an individual activity, but it is also something to be done in community. I enjoy knitting by myself, but knitting is much more enjoyable when I can share what I’ve made with others, or knit with others while we chat, or compare notes with or learn new techniques and tips from my knitter friends.
2. Knitting is both artistic and utilitarian. It’s easy for practical-minded people like myself to value usefulness above artistry, but I know I also have a need to be creative and to experience beauty in my life. Thus, knitting is a really good example of a life lesson I’ve been trying to learn and apply for a long time in other areas of my life: few things are either-or; almost everything is both-and.
3. Knitting creates a whole piece out of unlimited combinations of colors, textures and designs, similar to the way the church works. The New Revised Standard Version’s translation of Ephesians 4:16 describes how all different kinds of people make up the church in the language of knitting: “the whole body, joined and knitted together by every ligament…, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love. ” I really like the comparison.
4. Knitting is generational: my grandmother knit, my mother knit, I knit, I taught my daughter to knit, and now I’m teaching my little granddaughter to knit (albeit very slowly, given her short attention span and still developing fine motor skills). We pass on our knowledge and skills from generation to generation, thus maintaining links with the past and forging connections with the future.
5. Sometimes old-fashioned is good: On the one hand knitting seems old-fashioned and highly untechnical in this age when almost everything seems automated and done by machines, yet it is gaining popularity among people you wouldn’t imagine would be drawn to such a slow method of making something. Says something about the limitations of technology to satisfy some of our deepest longings as humans.
–With credit to a little book I dip into occasionally, Things I Learned from Knitting…Whether I Wanted to or Not, by Stephanie Pearl-McPhee.